With the stamp of authority

Renowned stamp dealer and postcard collector Charles Lilley, who had the world's largest collection of Maori postcards, has died.

Charles Harry William Lilley, 81, owned The Stamp Shop in New Plymouth after buying it with his late wife Ruby more than 35 years ago. He also ran an online business, selling philatelic products ranging from coins and cigarette cards to postal history products and stamps.

Charles Lilley at work with some of his thousands of early 20th century Maori postcards, the largest collection in the world

Born in South London in 1929, Mr Lilley began collecting stamps as a child in the 1930s while his postcard collecting began in the 1950s.

He came to New Zealand in 1952 and married Ruby who died in 2003. The couple had three children Bryan, Spencer and Tanya as well as nine grandchildren.

Tanya Toa-Wairere worked with her father in the Stamp Shop for more than 10 years and said Mr Lilley loved meeting new people. "He would talk to them for hours," she said.

Along with daughter Rowena, they took over management of the shop and the online business when Mr Lilley had two heart attacks on the same day last November. He died at Telford Resthome this week.

Mr Lilley's hobby became a career about 35 years ago when he gave up his job at McKechnie Aluminium in Bell Block, where he worked for 23 years. He bought The Stamp Shop, telling the Taranaki Daily News in an interview last year that the move was a gamble, telling his wife "we could lose everything".

The move, ultimately a successful one, saw him making countless trips overseas. He would take out a stand at different shows, many of them in Asia and he visited the UK every year for 25 years, Mrs Toa-Wairere said.

"He had two sisters over there he would visit but he also enjoyed going to different places and buying more things for the business."

Many of the items in his private collection of Maori postcards were cards British tourists had bought in NZ and sent home.

"A lot of them he bought back here," Mrs Toa-Wairere said.

Of his thousands of other postcards, more than half featured pictures of South London. In all, he had about 80,000 postcards and estimated his stamp collection numbered in the millions. His total collection was worth upwards of $750,000.

Longtime customer and friend Paul Peters said he had known Mr Lilley since 1968.

"When he became a stamp dealer in the mid 1970s he always seemed to have the most elusive and unusual, like rare and genuine certified Romanian overprints on Hungarian stamps used in Transylvania at the end of World War I.

"I also remember going into his shop one day in 1991 – on a trip back home – and saying I was trying to get a fine, used copy of the five shilling King Edward VII of the Orange River Colony. I said `I am sure you won't have that'. He replied, `have a look in there', pointing to an old album. There it was."